Area pharmacists can vaccinate kids as young as 3 during pandemic

Despite concerns from pediatricians, pharmacists can now administer vaccines to children as young as the age of three during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Local pharmacists say the recent decision was driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thad Franz, the director of pharmacy services at Cedar Care Pharmacy in Cedarville, said the pharmacy started giving vaccines to children starting two weeks ago as part of the new directive. Cedar Care was established by Cedarville University, but serves the village and the surrounding communities.

“A big reason for this is that children were not going to their regular appointments because of the coronavirus,” Franz said. “This is a big win for pharmacy as a profession, we can be part of the solution during this pandemic.”

Under the HHS mandate, which came as part of an amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), the vaccine must be FDA-approved or licensed, must be ordered and administered according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices-immunization schedules and the pharmacist or pharmacy intern must have a current certificate in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Pediatricians across the nation have pushed back on the new HHS rule. Melissa Wervey Arnold, CEO of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said many pediatricians are concerned with this new rule because there’s more than just vaccination that happens at a wellness visit.

“Immunization is oftentimes a driving force for bringing families in. So if you start to start to take out pieces of that well visit, we’re concerned we’re going to stop seeing kids come in for things like developmental screenings, vision screenings, for child abuse screenings,” Wervey Arnold said. “When everything was shutdown, we saw families not going to see their doctor at all and so we’re trying to get patients back in the door, and this is just another way that they’re going to push off a visit. Things like developmental delays need to be identified early."

Franz said before this new mandate, Ohio was able to vaccinate children as young as 7-years-old. His hope is that after the pandemic ends, pharmacists will still be able to vaccinate children down to 3-years-old.

“Pharmacists are the most accessible, available form of healthcare,” Franz said. “Allowing pharmacists to vaccinate children gives parents the flexibility to stay up-to-date on their vaccines.”

Franz said pharmacists want to collaborate with their counterparts in pediatrics.

“We want to come alongside pediatricians, we want to be collaborative and make sure pediatric patients don’t fall through the cracks,” Franz said.

Wervey Arnold said patients on Medicaid have a different vaccine program called Vaccines for Children (VFC). Over half of Ohio’s children are on Medicaid, she said. Most pharmacists don’t accept VFC, Wervey Arnold said.

“So the people who do have an access problem, which would be our at-risk population, wouldn’t have any increased access with this rule change,” she said.

Harold Neal, a pharmacist at The Pharmacy at Eastway on Wayne Avenue in Dayton, said the decision is a positive thing and is another push to get area children vaccinated.

“There’s no reason not to do this. This makes vaccines more accessible to some under-served populations,” Neal said. “It seems that pharmacists are sometimes more accessible than doctors or nurse practitioners.”

Neal said his pharmacy is an adult clinic, so his customers and patients aren’t affected by the decision.

“This is so exciting because traditionally, our profession has been seen as product driven. We provide medication. But I hope this helps customers and patients see us as providing a service, too,” Franz said.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy will issue further guidance for pharmacists on this HHS directive next week, said Cameron McNamee, director of policy and communications for the board.

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